Earning 27 cents the hard way

Pat Haley - Contributing Columnist

Last week I received a document from the Social Security Administration. The neatly typed document explained how much money I can expect from the government when I retire. It had a listing of my contributions to Social Security from 1965 to 2016.

I quickly scanned the pages and discovered that I had earned a total of 27 cents in 1965. Arousing my attention, I decided the matter deserved further contemplation, so I put on some music, sat back in my new lounge chair, and let my mind drift back to that fateful day in 1965.

One Sunday afternoon — April 3, 1965 to be exact — I was sitting at home at 340 North Spring Street, when it occurred to me that I would need extra spending money for the upcoming high school prom and dance.

Employment opportunities for a 17 year-old boy in Wilmington were slim at the time, particularly in the spring of the year. I quickly scanned the Wilmington News Journal and saw an ad for a short order cook at a local restaurant.

I drove my dad’s old Ford Galaxy to the restaurant, and advised the owner I was answering the ad for the short order cook position advertised in the newspaper. The owner immediately had me fill out the proper paperwork including a Social Security form, and then he took me to the kitchen.

He quickly introduced me to the cook, a tall, chain-smoking, gruff man dressed all in white, and about 50 years of age.

The cook immediately handed me a hamburger flipper, told me to cook three hamburgers, and to add cheese to one of them. I thought this was going to be great, as I frequently cooked hamburgers for our family dinners before my mother returned from a day’s work at Wilmington City Hall.

A few minutes after I finished handing the hamburger plate to the waitress, the owner came running over and shouted for me to quit “mashing the hamburgers so thin.” I thought that was a reasonable request, as there wasn’t much meat in the hamburger to begin with.

Then, the owner once again entered the kitchen and criticized how I prepared the baked beans and French fries.

Being a new employee and eager to learn, I overlooked the owner’s consternation and continued to strain the green beans and corn. I handed the prepared dish to another waitress. Within a few minutes, the owner returned to the kitchen angry and red-faced.

“Who mixed the green beans and corn together?” he demanded in a loud, threatening voice.

“I must have put the two vegetables a little too close together,” I responded. “I didn’t think any harm was done.”

“Then you must be stupid,” the owner retorted in the rudest of terms. Counting that insult as his last, I immediately bid the owner and the cook adieu and headed out the back door.

“Where are you going?” the owner growled.

“I quit,” I said. “Anyone who would get mad over an honest mistake like mixing corn and green beans is too petty for me. That type of attitude does not motivate me. Please send me my check.”

Three days later, I opened an envelope from the owner of the restaurant that contained a check in the amount of 27 cents. I grinned to myself and shook my head quietly.

Thanks to the United States government, I have a permanent record of the 27 cents I earned, as well as, a lesson learned.

Over the years, I have learned to tolerate many things in this world, but rudeness is not one of them.

Pat Haley is a Clinton County Commissioner.


Pat Haley

Contributing Columnist